Author Archive for nimduxing

Your Brochure, Your Website, and Content-First Design Approaches

I’ve been implementing secure websites with built-in Content Management Systems (CMS) since 2004. I started using Adobe Contribute®, and eventually embraced WordPress™ over Joomla™ and Drupal™ for one very important reason: the ability to modify the back end to improve end-user friendliness. No CMS provides an out-of-the box user-friendly environment quite like is advertised, or as is expected by the client who pays for the site to be built. This means that additional costs are often required when building a CMS-based website so that non-techies can really leverage the power they provide. Training reduces perceived complexity, like boiling the water away to leave only the salt behind, so that actual complexity is revealed. For this to happen, the client has to be fully committed to learning new things, including the many hours required to learn those things. There is, however, another issue that arises once the CMS is mastered, and it is not related to the technology at all. It is the realization that what worked in printed marketing communication (marcom) does not always translate one-to-one for a website; and this is where things can seriously stall during a web project.

The things that should be answered first are often considered last, and put the website on semi-permanent hold once the integration point has been reached. The integration point is the milestone at which all the technology is proven working as per the requirements, and it is time to pour in the content. I have had projects delayed by up to a year from clients who thought once they have a working design they will know what content to create and put into that design because they already have it in a brochure. This is a backward approach, and can be proven as such because instead of solving problems it creates new ones such as these:

  1. The brochure has the text but the method of content progression disclosure is different in print than it is for the web. For example, on the brochure the first two paragraphs might setup your core value proposition, but on the web these same paragraphs might be too long if your goal is to have the most important information “above the fold” before screen scrolling is required to read the rest of it. Likewise if you think you need a few complimentary messaging components above the fold, next to each other, in content boxes with a “more” link.
  2. Between the time the brochure was distributed and now, the core value of the company has been shown to require tweaking. This can happen when marketing feedback shows the brochure didn’t connect as intended with the audience. If the decision is made to re-write key content that establishes your identity and value only after the website project is approved rather than before, the likelihood of project delay increases. I’ve seen one paragraph take over a week to get right in high-stakes, competitive software startup environments.
  3. Content should inform design, not the other way around. Force-fitting content into a design results from this way of thinking 100% of the time. You can easily see this mentality in the way it crams content into a design that was intended for a specific level of content density, but which was exceeded by the actual messaging needs.
  4. Content as a last consideration usually results in re-design expenses after the integration point is reached. Column widths, teaser pockets, and banner ads all have to balance out visually on desktop and mobile. If content is an unknown variable all the way through the design phase, it will change the visual balance once it is finally quantified. Sometimes the modifications are minor, and sometimes it is like shoving a beach ball through a garden hose. The surprise expense shows up here in the form of significant layout adjustments or even full-blown design changes.
  5. Graphics, writing, and file links are all “information”. Information Design is the practice of determining how that information is arranged on a website, and how various navigation elements (such as the websites’ main menu or side-menus) should be optimized to reduce the number of clicks required to access the desired information. This absolutely depends on how information is arranged…and this is determined by knowing what your audience is looking for and how they are expecting to find it. If information is not the primary consideration, but is instead subordinated with the idea that “we just need a design first”, the changes in the site map and site architecture can be significant and expensive surprises to deal with after the integration point.
  6. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), if that is something you need, modifies content so that a search engine can more accurately determine how relevant you are for a given search phrase versus another website with similar content. The ratio of websites serving a particular phrase versus the amount of searches done on that phrase is called the “KEI Value”. SEO can impose far different content, navigation, and design requirements than websites where greater exposure is actually undesirable. This is most common for specialized organizational and corporate websites where the build is more along the lines of a Document Management System (DMS) for researchers or other subject matter experts to check-in content. The content requirements here are dramatically different because the function of the content is different. In SEO the content acts as a marketing tool, but in archival research sites it is to be protected from prying eyes; which in turn means site membership is predicated on invitation-only.

Marketing is the act of connecting those that have a need with those that satisfy the need. The differentiator is usually how the problem is solved, and this often depends on at least some educational content so that the target audience understands why the differentiator matters. If “how we are different” is not understood, then it won’t matter. Existing printed marcom may have been created for exposure in the context of a trade show or one-on-one meeting with a C-Class stakeholder during a complex technical sales effort. These are far more specialized situations than the generalized context of a website. Even if the printed marcom is working well within that context, it is unlikely to translate with the same impact on the web. By recognizing that who we are trying to reach is as important as the context within which our message will be received, we can create content that informs a design naturally, and improves the overall experience for potential new clients.

Tank Swappers

Build Type: RapidRollout

Tank Swappers is based out of Exeter, California. This is a new business with a propane delivery model that allows residence and businesses to take delivery of propane on a scheduled or on-demand basis. The core feature-benefits are cost savings, reliability, convenience, and better safety from not having to transport your own propane.

  • A theme provided by Shopify provided the starting design, which I modified using Shopify’s Liquid language.
  • An external 3rd party app, approved by Shopify, is used to manage a cascading set of business rules I configured based on the project requirements for applying discounts based on certain conditions. This negates the need for the customer to input a discount code manually, and makes it more difficult for discount codes to be abused.
  • I provided guidance for selecting the appropriate Shopify plan, theme, and capabilities based on the objectives of the business.
  • UI design and workflow testing were both a significant part of this engagement.
  • Logo design was sourced to a trusted partner that worked directly with the client.
  • I provided image selections to accelerate the client’s decisions in that regard.
  • I created the tank images and the icon affixed to each tank. These tanks are rendered, not real.
  • Some writing / editing, and information design services.
  • I continue to provide ongoing training and technical support as the challenges of running a new store demand. I am able to work with both the 3rd Party App developer and Shopify Technical Support to provide my client with a single source answer across multiple concerns should they arise.


Build Type: Foundation

This website, along with and, was initially part of a marketing push to compete within specific United States market spaces, including those occupied by Nestle Foods. These sites were eventually combined and our original websites replaced after over six years of successful operation.

These websites contained custom graphic design montages, manufacturing videos, downloadable engineering manuals searchable by category, engineering forms recreated in GravityForms and PDF files, and much more.

Work performed as MJ Penner Consulting

Ritchie Trucking

Build Type: Foundation

This company is a west coast trucking powerhouse based in Fresno, California. Logistics and heavy shipping schedules are their specialty. The client needed a website they could maintain themselves, along with a specialized expiring job post requirement and private employee login area.

This website was built with iThemes Builder products. This implementation is still active here.

Work performed as MJ Penner Consulting

Hamilton Ranches

Build Type: RapidRollout

One of the longest running e-commerce websites in my portfolio, this California based business sells some of the world’s most delicious pecan varieties from tree to box. I provided consulting and build services, while provided the starting photoshop design that I then coded into a website using iThemes toolsets.

This implementation is currently active here.

Work performed as MJ Penner Consulting

The Cabinet Shop

Build Type: RapidRollout

This business builds high end cabinetry and furniture for commercial and residential concerns. This is a companion website to

  • This implementation is currently active here.
  • In addition to the website’s design, we provided graphic design services for a company timeline, writing services, and information design services for determining the best site map arrangement given the content anticipated.
  • Consulting services included defining the desired end-user experience based on audience, and developing a content strategy (we include images and media as part of that strategy) that would fulfill certain objectives.
Work performed as MJ Penner Consulting

Sequoia Prompt Care

Build Type: RapidRollout

This urgent care website built for Kaweah Delta Healthcare District replaced a previous site over which staff had no control. Our DeepCMS approach was adapted for this design though it did require a somewhat restrictive approach to mobile at the time.

  • The site is located at
  • The site is built on an iThemes Builder Theme.
  • The design was adapted from a previous version of the site so the design is not original.
  • A system for displaying patient wait times was integrated into the site.
  • The site helps raise awareness that there are two locations available within the Visalia City Limits.
Work performed as MJ Penner Consulting

Purified Water And Ice

Build Type: RapidRollout

This Hanford, California based water shop specializes in selling water purified through a proprietary 13-step process. This website’s entire build was predicated on first understanding all their printed marketing material, their processes, and how their audience normally finds them.

I provided several layers of consulting and production services on this one:

  • Evaluate all marketing material to derive a content plan.
  • Create unique modifications to an existing theme.
  • Create coupon redemption tracker with a mobile component.
  • Create in-page graphics and other content assistance.
Work performed as MJ Penner Consulting

Habitat for Humanity

Build Type: RapidRollout

Based in Visalia, California, this Habitat for Humanity Office awarded MJ Penner Consulting the Presidential Service Award for donating two web builds as technology evolved. This implementation is no longer active.

Work performed as MJ Penner Consulting

California Citrus Quality Council

Build Type: Foundation

The CCQC’s objective is to ensure that California citrus production meets domestic and international regulatory standards. CCQC works with government agencies, international standards setting organizations, the University of California, the California citrus industry and trading partners to help the California industry meet domestic and international phytosanitary, food safety, food additive and pesticide residue regulations.

This website provides CCQC with a new, responsive website housing all their archival research data, reports, and presentation files. Highlights include:

  • The site is active here.
  • Content management ease of use enhancements without any visual editor plugins.
  • Media Library enhancements for easier maintenance.
  • SSL Secured and other security best practices applied and monitored.
  • Custom and responsive design based on iThemes Builder.
  • Information Design services for navigation and taxonomical architecture.
  • Content synchronization and modification from old site to new.
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